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What is Decision Fatigue?

Do you ever find it difficult to make decisions by the end of the day?

The average person makes about 35,000 decisions a day. What shoes should I wear? What should I eat for lunch? What should I listen to during this car ride? Some decisions are easier than others, such as what time to wake up. Some decisions are more difficult, such as whether to accept a new job offer.

Making these many decisions, regardless of their difficulty level, can be exhausting and cause stress. This is known as decision fatigue.

What is decision fatigue?

Decision fatigue is when a person’s ability to make decisions becomes worse after a long time of decision-making. Our cognitive abilities get worn out, which is why we can feel overwhelmed when we must make countless decisions. This phenomenon can affect people of all statures and professional careers, including the President.

You may have experienced decision fatigue without realizing it was happening. Think about the last time you went out for dinner after work. You look at the large menu and you have no idea what to pick. It’s an intricate process to make this seemingly simple choice because it’s a process of weighing motivations and options.

Some people are more at risk than others.

As the day goes on, and you need to make more and more decisions, your ability to choose wisely can decrease. This can vary by person, especially depending on the type of decisions you need to make. For example, a judge may experience greater decision fatigue than other professions.

A person is more at risk of experiencing decision fatigue if they:

  • make several decisions throughout the day

  • feel greatly affected by the decisions they make

  • make very stressful/complex decisions

  • make decisions affecting other people in a significant way

Decision fatigue can manifest in a few different ways.

A common form of decision fatigue is impulse buying. When your brain is tired of making decisions, it may skip the back and forth of the pros and cons of purchasing an item.

Oppositely, your brain may prolong weighing the pros and cons so long, that you forgo making any decision. This procrastination can push the decision to another day, otherwise known as “sleeping on it”.

The emotional impact of decision fatigue can cause stress making it difficult to make any choices. No matter how simple the decision may be, the thought of making it can cause you major anxiety, annoyance, frustration, or irritability.

There are some ways to fight decision fatigue.

If each decision depletes energy, it may be best to make the hardest, or most important, decisions at the beginning of the day. Making a priority list the day before can help you prioritize your most important decisions.

Planning your meals ahead may also help eliminate decision fatigue. This could include meal prepping or creating a calendar before the week begins.

Another way to save some of your brain power is to cut down on the number of decisions you need to make. Barack Obama did this in office by wearing the same-colored suit every day. Other professionals who make numerous daily decisions may also benefit from this tactic.

You can also cut down on decisions by delegating. This could include assigning tasks to your team at work or having your partner decide where to have dinner for the night.

Last, but certainly not least – take a break! Being physically fatigued can be a factor in decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue can impact everyone and in different ways. We suggest you take the steps needed to become aware of your decision fatigue symptoms and how you can prevent them in the future. Your mental health with thank you!

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